BY JOE BOWEN – SUN POST NEWSPAPERS
At the its last meeting before the 2013-14 school year, the Robbinsdale Area School Board heard a report from Executive Director of Student Services Mike Favor, who broke down the student participation rates in extra-curricular activities – from basketball to choir – at Plymouth and Robbinsdale middle schools.
The focus of his presentation was the racial makeup of each activity in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years and how those makeups compared to the racial demographics in the schools as a whole. Favor’s presentation also included data for free and reduced-fee school lunches.
Some activities, according to the report, had higher rates of participation from some demographics than rates of enrollment. Boys basketball at Plymouth, for instance, was made up of 49 pecent black students, 35 percent white students, 6 percent Asian students, 5 percetn Hispanic students and 4 percent American Indian students in the 2011-12 school year.
The overall enrollment demographics at the school were noticeably different: 59 percent white, 23 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian.
Other activities, such as girls swimming and drama, showed similar discrepancies, but with a higher degree of participation from white students than might be expected from enrollment data.
“There’s so many categories where there’s such a huge discrepancy, what can we do as a board to help with your goal of having a lot of these activities represent and reflect the demographics of the district?” asked Boardmember Mike Bomchill.
Favor answered first by mentioning that participation in extra-curricular activities can be subject to several factors.
“I think we have to take into consideration that many of our students have – even at the middle school – they may not have a job, but they’re often involved in activities at home and things that have to take place in their home and supporting their families,” he said.
“So I think that’s a piece that we need to look at,” he added, before answering in full. “But also getting the word out that the more you participate and the correlation between participating in activities and student achievement.”
“I think it’s something that we need to get out and be intentionally engaging students…to be a part of some of the district activities.”
Boardmember Tom Walsh added his impression of the data Favor presented, saying that he felt a handful of sports may be skewing the overall picture of Robbinsdale Middle School.
“Robbinsdale overall had an improvement over this last year, the demographics overall more closely reflect the overall school population,” he said. “But it looks like that was done by, in many sports, creating bigger imbalances, such as in football and in boys soccer and in boys track.”
Walsh referred to a 9 percent increase in the number of black students in boys track between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.
“Many newer sports there (at Robbinsdale middle school) are pretty monochromatic … I think we still have a long way to go,” he said, adding that “If this is one of our goals then we keep our eye on that – the individual sports and activities.”
“I don’t know what there is that we can do to help direct the students, but it’s something that we do need to think about.”
Favor agreed, saying, “I think awareness around the goal is important, and, again, aligning the goal to the mission of what we’re doing with the unified district mission and aligning the goal to really support students, will impact them academically. I think identifying students to get involved … is central to improving the data across the board.”
In a follow-up e-mail, Superintendent Aldo Sicoli explained that Favor’s report is part of “something we’ve been monitoring for several years.”
“We continually look for ways to make more progress,” he wrote, “it is part of our ongoing emphasis on education equity in our district.”
Bruce Beidelman, principal at Plymouth Middle School, had a chance to read Favor’s report.
“I’m very happy that, when you look at Plymouth Middle School, that the students participating at Plymouth, demographically, are almost identical to our demographics during the day,” he said.
Beidelman also noted that some school activities, such as swimming and football, have similar programs offered elsewhere in the community.
“There’s so many community activities now. Kids may be participating in other community activities, but not at Plymouth,” he said.
“Some kids participate in both,” he added.
Robbinsdale Middle School Principal John Cook, responding via email, wrote that he had not seen the report, but mentioned that “the key for us is to get more RMS kids involved. I would rather focus on increasing the numbers of kids who participate in activities rather than the percentage of certain racial groups who participate in certain activities.”